Led by a police motorcycle escort, some 4,000 motorcyclists roared through Monroe down Main Street from Newtown Sunday on the last leg of a 60-mile ride with no stops, passing through 11 towns.
They were participants in the annual CT United Ride and rode in tribute to first responders who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and in support of those who still serve.
About 1 p.m. they passed beneath the 50-foot American flag hung aloft between the extended ladder trucks of Stepney’s Volunteer Fire Department to cheers, sirens and horns. Residents from Monroe, Trumbull and as far away as Norwalk and Milford applauded.
"I brought my family up from Norwalk to experience this with friends," said John Campbell. "Nine-eleven changed my life. I am never without an American flag. I've been wearing one for 10 years, and I’ll never forget. It will forever be Ground Zero."
His friends, Clifford and Susan Compolattaro, from Sandy Hook weren't riding this year. They are expecting a baby soon.
"I was coming out of the Subway near Fulton Street, about two blocks from the Twin Towers," Susan said. "There was a huge explosion. No one knew what was going on. You couldn't see past the buildings."
"I went to my class a few blocks away, but the building was empty," she said explaining, "I didn't know it had already been evacuated. I just went up to the fourth floor to the cafeteria.
"It was then I saw it. The windows faced the Towers. I could see the fire spreading through the first one to be hit."
Susan went back down to the street and into chaos. She overhead a man on a cell phone telling someone he was going to leave the city.
"Will you help me," she asked.
"Hang on," the stranger said and they ran as she physically held on to his shirttails. Together they made it to one of the last trains allowed out of Grand Central Station and back to Connecticut. Her father was stranded on Long Island for two days finally getting a ferry to New London. Her mother was left alone in upstate New York.
"What I remember most," she said, "is total strangers helping out. That's why we ride. But not this year," she said and smiled patting her belly.
As the riders sped by many rigged out in red white and blue, hands waved in welcome, others in salute and many gave the victory "V" sign.
Masuk High School's entire dance team put down their hoses and sponges and stopped their car-wash fundraiser to line the street and cheer.
"This is important," said one waving in the line of red tee-shirts. "We can wash cars after they go by."
The CT United Ride was initially organized by the Uniformed Professional Firefighters of Connecticut as a fundraiser for the victims of 9/11, the event drew 500 motorcyclists its first year. Ten years later, thousands of riders straddled their bikes and kicked off after opening ceremonies in Norwalk. Elected officials participating in Norwalk this year included Monroe's State Rep. DebraLee Hovey.
"It's been a decade since those horrific attacks but for many people the pain inflicted that day remains — and it always will," Hovey said. "No matter how or where they choose to do it, I hope everyone will take a moment to think about what happened that day, the innocent victims and the people who lost their lives in brave service."
The Annual CT United Ride remains a tribute to 9/11. However, any and all monies raised from the second year on, have gone to the family emergency relief funds for Connecticut police officers, firefighters and two local United Ways.
This year's CT United Ride was dedicated to the memory of Bridgeport Firefighter Michel Baik and Lt. Steven Velasquez who gave their own lives in line of duty July 24,2010.
The CT United Riders event has become the largest 9/11 ceremony in the state.